Institutions like the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and Unicef have long inspired hope in the
power of global networks to promote peace, unity and co-operation. They might not always live up to their own ideals or the high expectations we have of them but the discovery that more than a dozen workers from the three bodies are being investigated internally for corruption and theft in Yemen is particularly disheartening. Instead of helping millions of Yemenis driven to the brink of famine and poverty in the four-year war, the workers are accused of lining their own pockets with aid money, donated food and medical supplies. One WHO staffer is alleged to have hired junior employees he knew personally and rewarded them with inflated salaries for menial tasks such as taking care of his dog. Even more shocking was the content of a UN report, leaked to the Associated Press, that stated Houthi rebels were pressuring aid agencies into hiring staff from their own ranks and one senior Houthi official was reportedly allowed use of a UN vehicle.
Understandably, the Yemeni government has asked the UN to disclose the full details of the report and take action against those found culpable. If proven to be true, these revelations are all the more shameful as they involve aid workers upon whom an entire population relies for support. Years of civil war between the country’s internationally recognised government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels have turned Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN. Four out of five Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid or protection and half the population is on the brink of starvation. Corruption and theft can only prolong the plight of a people who have had more than their share of suffering.
While most officials are innocent of such accusation, these rogue elements in respected institutions could crush confidence-building efforts that the UN has sought to achieve and risks impeding the peace process at a delicate time. Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths has recently been able strengthen the relationship with Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, putting behind them a period of distrust in the UN’s ability to be an impartial broker in the conflict.
The alleged wrongdoers are also deflecting attention from the good work undertaken by the vast majority of aid workers who put their lives at risk for the sake of the needy every day. Last year, 126 aid workers were killed worldwide. The UN also has a responsibility to maintain transparency and accountability in the ongoing investigations, which will be crucial to show the people of Yemen that they can still count on such institutions to bring peace and relief.